The Irving Society Newsletter No 77

The Irvingite


Members are asked to please save the date for the Society’s 22nd Annual General Meeting in celebration of Sir Henry Irving’s Birthday.  This year’s festivities will take place on the afternoon of Sunday 11 February, 2017.  Members are asked to assemble at the Irving Statue on Charing Cross Road at 2.15pm.   Following the ceremonial laying of the wreath at the Irving Statue, members will walk to the Concert Artistes’ Association, 20 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9HP for the Annual General Meeting. Proceedings will conclude with a talk from the Society’s Honorary Treasurer, Dr Kristan Tetens, entitled ‘Henry Irving, Hall Caine, and the Missing Mahomet’.

In her talk, Dr Kristan Tetens will discuss a play that might well have changed the course of British theatrical history had it been produced: a four-act historical drama by Hall Caine based on the life of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, that was commissioned by Henry Irving in 1890. Caine had the play half written when word came from the Lord Chamberlain that it would not be licensed for production. This talk will explore why the play was banned and its impact on the careers of both Caine and Irving. Kristan’s PhD thesis, recently completed at the University of Leicester, is the first study of Caine’s writing for the stage and his collaborations with leading actors and managers, including Irving, Wilson Barrett, Viola Allen, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Louis Napoleon Parker, Mrs Patrick Campbell, George Alexander, and Arthur Collins. Kristan has published in the Journal of Victorian Culture and Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film, and has delivered papers at conferences sponsored by the North American Victorian Studies Association, the Society for Theatre Research, the Institute of Historical Research, and the International Federation for Theatre Research. She currently serves as the Irving Society’s honorary treasurer.


Members will soon receive their membership renewal forms for the 2018 membership year (apologies for the delay in posting these forms, but the Honorary Secretary was unexpectedly in hospital for surgery before and during the Christmas period).

The Committee is pleased to announce that the Society’s finances are presently in a healthy state and this has enabled fees to once again be frozen for the coming year.

Full Membership

First Knight Only Membership

After you have made your payment (via Bank Transfer, payal or cheque in British Sterling), please complete and mail your membership form to:

Dr Kristan Tetens, Honorary Treasurer,




It is with regret that the Society’s Vice Chair, Alex Bisset, is standing down this year from his position. So, too, the Editor of First Knight, Piers Henderson, and the Honorary Secretary and Editor of The Irvingite, Megan Hunter, will be standing down as soon as their replacements can be found. Members wishing to stand as replacements for any of the Officer roles in particular will be gratefully considered, and outgoing officers have promised to assist with long and thorough handovers. All three will remain active members of the Society. The Committee thanks them greatly for their hard work and, particularly, wishes to thank Alex for his service to the Society over many years.

Members wishing to stand for one of the Officer positions – or for a place on the Committee – should submit notification of their interest in writing to the Society’s Chair, Frances Hughes, by 7 February. Elections will take place at the Society’s Annual General Meeting.

If no other nominations are received the current Committee Members Jennie Bisset, Paul Campion, Imogen Irving and Helen R. Smith will be deemed to be re-elected, Frances Hughes to remain as Chair and Dr Kristan Tetens to remain as Honorary Treasurer.


On a cold late November morning and under the guidance of our esteemed colleague Paul Campion, 11 intrepid Irvingites gathered together at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell to view a most elegantly presented exhibition ‘ Life on the London Stage’.
We were delighted to see a life size photograph of our hero, looking sly,
dangerous and dignified in his celebrated role of Shylock. The wide sash in his costume is at the Ellen Terry museum at Smallhythe and I remember being allowed to handle it when I performed my one-man show ‘Macready’ there in 1980.
Other theatrical luminaries of the period were well-represented and other periods too, reaching back to Shakespeare’s day.
Most touchingly there were contemporary records of the death of Shakespeare’s younger brother, the actor Edmund Shakespeare who died in 1607 at the age of 27 and of Edmund’s son Edward who died in the same year as his father and is described as ‘base bourne’ meaning illegitimate.
In addition to photographs and engravings, excerpts from an 1827 volume ” The Road to the Stage” were displayed on wall charts. One announced ” How little education has to do with acting” and then backed it up with an account of an illiterate actor who performed a creditable Richard the third though he couldn’t read a word of the text. Apparently the part was read to him and he absorbed it instantly. A touch of hyperbole there I suspect.
Recordings of actors of today were played including a particularly interesting one of Judi Dench describing her approach to playing Lady Macbeth. Judi felt that the character’s overwhelming love for her husband was the motive, which led her into paths of evil. She believed that Lady Macbeth is desperately asking – not demanding the spirits to make her capable of ‘direst cruelty’. A crucial difference which humanised the character and contributed to the most persuasive Lady Macbeth in my memory.
A more (literally) down to earth attraction in the exhibition were the foot outlines of celebrities from the ‘ Feet Books ‘ of the distinguished boot makers ‘ Peal and Company ‘ whose records came to the London Archives following the demise of the company in 1965. It was fun to ‘stand on the feet’ as it were of Charlie Chaplin, Ethel Barrymore and Laurence Olivier before hot footing it to the nearby Quality Chop House in Farringdon Road for an enjoyable lunch. Frances Hughes thanked Paul most gracefully for organising our adventure so generously and efficiently while Michael Kilgariff pronounced the undeniable truth that whenever members of the Henry Irving Society are gathered together, the atmosphere is always warm and convivial. On this occasion it survived a truly bizarre main course of bolognaise sauce on toast, which we’d chosen in a spirit of adventurous cooperation with our young and charming waitress. Next time it’ll be Chops.’

– Frank Barrie, November 27th 2017.



The Honorary Secretary would like to share with Members that she has been made aware of the following lot that is being offered at Bonhams in London next month.

The item for auction is a silver-mounted glass bottle by Henry Titterton Brockwell, London 1878, hallmarked to the collar and stopper.  it is engraved with the message: “ From Henry Irving to T. Meller Christmas 1877”

Thomas Meller was a stockbroker who lived at Elm Cottage in Lower Norwood, London with his wife, Elizabeth and daughters Rose and Ida. The family were all close friends of Irving, who would frequently arrange for them to use his private box at the Lyceum Theatre.

The database of Henry Irving correspondence collated and catalogued as part of the Henry Irving Centenary Project contains many items showing the closeness of the relationship between Irving and the Meller family.

In 1877 Irving sent the family a Christmas card from Brighton, the same year that the glass bottle was given to Thomas Meller.


Many thanks to our former Editor, Michael Kilgarriff, who writes:

Pages 28-9 of Arthur Bryant’s The Fire and The Rose (Collins 1965) give the following description of Thomas Becket’s physical appearance and analysis of his character.

‘Becket was not by nature a religious man; he was self-centred, egotistical, an artist and an autocrat.  Though pure in life, and generous to his servants and retainers, he did not instinctively love men or turn the other cheek. He was neither meek nor humble. […] Yet for the lonely, spectacular role he now chose Becket was superbly equipped.  His towering height, his pale sensitive face, the aquiline nose and restless penetrating eyes, the white feminine hands and quick eager movements made him look what he aspired to be, a saint.’

So who does this remind you of…?



  • Members are invited to submit content for inclusion in either of the Society’s publications. Submissions should be sent directly to  Submissions for inclusion in The Irvingite will be considered by the Honorary Secretary, and submissions for inclusion in First Knight will be considered by the Editorial Sub-Committee.
  • And finally, as a reminder, should any members no longer wish to retain single or multiple back issues of First Knight, the Editorial Committee would be pleased to receive such copies to meet the needs of those seeking to fill gaps in their collection – lost or mislaid – or for the benefit of new members seeking to add to their collection.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.